Mighty Red Pen

December 3, 2007

How does your budget grow?

Filed under: Grammar goddess,Pet peeves — mighty red pen @ 7:42 am

A job listing sent to MRP a while back contained this line:

The Executive Director will oversee an organization with a current annual budget of over $250,000 and will be expected to grow CNW’s budget, reach, and influence considerably.

Using to grow as a transitive verb to refer to budgets or organizations rather than, say, vegetables is one development I’m just not ready to get on board with. I’d much prefer to see something along the lines of will be expected to help the budget grow or will be expected to increase the budget.

Let’s see what others have to say. Brians comments, “Business and government speakers have extended this usage widely, but it irritates traditionalists. Use ‘build,’ ‘increase,’ ‘expand,’ ‘develop,’ or ’cause to grow’ instead in formal writing.” The American Heritage Book of English Usage remarks:

Grow has been used since medieval times as an intransitive verb meaning “to increase in size, quantity or degree,” as in Our business has been growing steadily for three years. It has been used with an object since the 18th century, meaning “to produce or cultivate,” as in We grow beans and corn in our garden. But the transitive use applied to business and nonliving things is quite new. It came into full bloom during the 1992 presidential election, when nearly all the candidates were concerned with “growing the economy.” Business leaders and politicians may be fond of this usage, but should the rest of us? The Usage Panel thinks not. Eighty percent reject the phrase grow our business.

On the other hand, insists Jack Lynch, an English professor at Rutgers who keeps an online Guide to Grammar and Style, it’s a matter of taste, not of style:

The problem with this argument is that neither logic, nor grammar, nor usage bears it out. People have been growing corn and growing beards — both examples of grow as a transitive verb — since at least 1774: they mean “cause to grow” or “allow to grow.” There’s no logical reason why you can’t also grow the economy, or grow anything else you want to make bigger. The only unusual thing is that it’s being applied to something that gets bigger metaphorically, rather than literally.

But even he concedes, “I find it ugly, and avoid it myself.”

Whether you’re an irritable traditionalist or not, what do others think of it?

1 Comment »

  1. I may be going out on a limb here, but if you ‘grow a beard’, you start off with no beard, and end up with a beard. If you ‘grow corn’, you start off with no corn (just seeds), and end up with corn. However if you ‘grow the economy’, you start off with a small economy, and end up with a large economy. I think that’s why this particular phrase grates – ‘grow’ is usually used transitively to mean ‘grow from scratch’ rather than ‘make bigger’.

    OK, that probably made no sense…

    Comment by JD — December 4, 2007 @ 11:45 am | Reply


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: